Some two years ago, I’d had it up to my neck with living in the UK. “Right! That’s it!” I said. “Enough is enough.” And so, just like that, I upped and left. Now, two years on, after a short spate of networking, I’m unexpectedly back again and with a sense of delight and purpose to boot.
My mission is to do a stint of work with artisan baker, Alex Gooch, from Hay-on-Wye. For those who may not know, Alex is no ordinary baker. In Jamaican dialect, we’d say he’s no ‘pyah pyah’ baker. Speak his name in certain quarters in and around Hay, and eyes suddenly sparkle, mouths begin to salivate and backs straighten in salute. Yes, Alex Gooch, award-winning artisan baker, from Hay-on-Wye, is somewhat of a local legend in these parts.
Apparently, my appearance in the area has been generating some interest too. My friend, Lisa, tells me that there a number of people who are intrigued by such a transition all the way from Jamaica to Alex Gooch’s bakery in this small neck of the woods, out in the countryside, on the border of England and Wales. I caught a sense of the spontaneous intrigue when corresponding with a prospective landlady.
“How on earth did you get from Jamaica to a bakery in Hay on Wye?” Sara, the landlady, enquired. “Do you come from there originally?”
“No, I’m not from Hay but since you asked, here’s the story . . ..”
While in Jamaica, I was searching for a great business idea. It has been my ambition for many years to run my own business; and I did for a time when I established ‘Island Joy’ in the UK. Here are a few of the cards I used to produce under the Island Joy label.
It was great fun while it lasted but now I needed something that would work in the Jamaican context.
Delving into other areas that I was passionate about, I settled on the idea of a baking company, doing healthy cakes. I emailed my promotional flyer to friends and family, and I also started a blog. Several of them liked the concept.
My friend, Lisa, from Leominster, (gentle reader, for those who may not know, Leominster is pronounced ‘Lemster’) whom I met some years ago when we were both students on the masters programme in Creative Media Enterprises, at Birmingham City University, emailed back saying, “How lovely!” She included Alex’s website details and added, “You may also like this . . ..”
Well, I did like it-the sophisticated simplicity of his website; his passion for good-quality, organic ingredients; his use of sourdough, which I had been reading up on and was definitely interested in; and his obvious excellence in his field, occasioned by the notable awards he had achieved.
2013 saw Alex win the “Best Ciabatta” Award in the World Bread Awards . . . He [was] featured in Country Life magazine as one of the best bakers in the UK.
Like most people who did the Creative Media Enterprises programme, Lisa and I were inspired by entrepreneurs who had successfully built a creative enterprise from scratch in their chosen field and were making a difference in people’s lives. Alex had clearly hit the mark. I filed his details because I knew I would refer to it again in the future; and I got on with developing the Hob & Rack (Healthy Options Bakery, delivering Rather Appetizing Cakes with a Kick).
I got a few orders but to some extent idealism is perhaps one of my downfalls. I soon found out that given the circumstances of the economy, it was going to be difficult to stick to my concept of using the best quality ingredients to produce a nutritionally sound product of the nature I was contemplating. I needed to cut costs without simultaneously cutting quality. It was evident that that would require switching to an entirely different product.
So, up to the plate steps the idea of producing sourdough bread. I had already been experimenting with soaking and fermenting and sprouting grains, flours, beans, and nuts and seeds for my personal use; and sourdough was just one of the sides of this fascinating, multi-faceted prism of traditional food preparation that had caught my attention. But what I knew about sourdough was mainly theory: I had never used an actual sourdough starter before. Did I have the confidence to attempt this commercially? Not unless I could get some practical experience in a commercial setting.
I started exploring the possibilities. I contacted a few bakeries; and no doubt, during this stage, Alex’s details came up again. Two or three other bakeries offered me placements, but no word from Alex, which was a shame really because his website was the most appealing I had been on. And just when I thought he wasn’t going to reply, I got an email!
Following a few rounds of correspondence, he offered me a placement to help out till Christmas. I was elated and jumped at the opportunity. I decided to strike while the iron, and the British sun, was still hot. (Gentle reader, I am convinced that there is nothing worse than leaving a hot country to go to a cold one in the dead of winter) So, in a matter of weeks, I was on my way back to the UK and what I anticipate to be a brand new phase . . .
CHAPTER TWO coming soon – to get it, scroll below and follow this blog